An Israeli airstrike hit a group of militants along the volatile border between Israel and the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, killing one and wounding two others in a burst of violence that shattered a recent lull and threatened to set off more fighting.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia said the violence erupted when Israeli troops moved into a buffer zone east of Gaza City. Palestinian militants then engaged the troops in a gunbattle before an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the gunmen. He said one of the wounded was in critical condition. The army often patrols the border to search for explosives or clear out areas potentially used by militants to stage attacks.
The Israeli military its aircraft had targeted two militant squads that were preparing to fire rockets into southern Israel. It pledged to "continue to take action against those (who) use terror against the state of Israel."
In a text message, the Islamic Jihad militant group said the militants were all members. The group has been involved in a number of clashes with Israel in recent months.
Hamas, a larger militant group that governs Gaza, has largely observed an unofficial truce with Israel since a tough Israeli military offensive three years ago in response to repeated rocket fire out of the seaside strip. But Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks that emanate from Gaza, accusing the group of ignoring _ and possibly even encouraging _ violence by other groups.
Early last month, Israel and Islamic Jihad engaged in several days of fighting in which some 10 militants and an Israeli civilian were killed. Israeli officials have threatened tough retaliation if the rocket fire resumes.
Wednesday's violence came hours after Israel expelled a Hamas lawmaker to the West Bank. The lawmaker, Ahmed Abu Atoun, had been arrested in September after venturing out of a Red Cross compound in east Jerusalem, where he had sought refuge for more than a year.
Israel bars Hamas from operating in Jerusalem.